Lobbying, NASA

Scientists and advocates once again seek restoration of NASA planetary funding

The Planetary Society released this week a statement prepared “in collaboration” with the planetary sciences divisions of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) and American Geophysical Union (AGU) about the current state of NASA’s planetary sciences program. The organizations support NASA’s decision announced nearly two months ago to develop a Mars rover based on Curiosity for launch in 2020, with the caveat that the rover should be used to cache samples for later return to Earth as recommended by the 2011 planetary sciences decadal survey. “It is of the utmost importance” that the 2020 rover be a sample cacher, the statement reads, “in order to maximize science return and support a balanced and affordable approach to the exploration of our solar system.”

The organizations, though, are still seeking to reverse the $300 million cut in NASA’s planetary sciences budget proposed for FY2013, given that Congress has yet to approve a 2013 budget. (NASA, like other federal agencies, is operating under a continuing resolution that funds programs at 2012 levels, although NASA officials have indicated they are spending on planetary programs at the proposed 2013 level of $1.2 billion instead of the $1.5 billion/year rate in 2012.) Giving the NASA planetary program a flat budget of $1.5 billion a year for 2013 and beyond would, the organizations argue, allow NASA to perform both the 2020 Mars rover mission as well as a Europa orbiter mission (the second-ranked large-scale mission in the decadal report), and would allow NASA to increase the tempo of smaller Discovery and New Frontiers missions to levels recommended in the report.

There is, though, a subtle difference between the versions of the statement released by The Planetary Society and the AAS’s Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS). The Planetary Society’s version emphasizes first that the increased funding would allow for the the Mars 2020 rover and Europa mission, then notes that the funding would also increase the rate of Discovery and New Frontiers missions. The DPS statement, though, addresses these in reverse order, first mentioning the increased rate of Discovery and New Frontier missions and then stating it also would fund the Mars and Europa missions.

The Planetary Society’s version also includes a little additional rhetoric about the importance of planetary sciences funding. “We find the shift in budgetary priority deeply troubling,” its version states, after rueing the implications of the proposed cuts. “Namely, it represents a step backwards from our nation’s long commitment to exploration and the pursuit of answers to the big questions of ‘where do we come from?’ and ‘are we alone?’”

13 comments to Scientists and advocates once again seek restoration of NASA planetary funding

  • Dark Blue Nine

    Worthy cause but not in this budget environment. IIRC, one of the appropriations marks only restored half the cut while the other provided no increase over the President’s budget. And that’s before an 8%+ sequestration cut.

  • amightywind

    “Namely, it represents a step backwards from our nation’s long commitment to exploration and the pursuit of answers to the big questions of ‘where do we come from?’ and ‘are we alone?’”

    The great thing about justifying funding with pablum like this is that you don’t have to change your proposal from year to year. It is a great strategy when the government gravy train is rolling. But it ain’t now. Your gonna have to do a lot better than that fellas.

    • E. P. Grondine

      AW, for once I agree entirely with you. It is pablum, and no justification for the expenditure.

      I have my own answers for the “Why?” question, which everyone here are aware of.

  • DCSCA

    “We find the shift in budgetary priority deeply troubling,” its version states, after rueing the implications of the proposed cuts.”

    In faxt, the budget overruns for Curiosity is even more troubling.throw-away planetary probes like — and unaway projects like the JWST are much more troubling in the Age of Austerity.

  • James

    Is Grunsfeld the right guy, the right leader, the right manager, to advocate on behalf of these organizations, assuming he agrees with them, to OMB and the White House?

  • Aberwys

    Interesting question, James. Historically, what do people think of the prior SMD AAs? Weiler seemed to gave a good head on his shoulders.

    • E. P. Grondine

      Ed Weiler was very bad. He had a penchant for spending other agencies’ funding to free up money for his own obsession, which is and was cosmology.

      He significantly mis-estimated the costs for the Next Gen and Curiousity rover.

      In my opinion, Space Science is suffering now from his leadership then in the same way that Exploration is suffering now from Griffin’s tenure then.

      • James

        My impression of Weiler is that while he was a smart scientist, he was horrible at leading people, or managing things. He knew how to play the dysfunctional game that is NASA HQ/OMB/White House/Congress politics, but he was not visionary in how get mission costs down, live within budgets, work with the Centers on altering their expensive ways etc While at Goddard he often complained of not having any power (i.e. money)I don’t have a sense that Astro Dr. Grunsfeld will be any different, indeed maybe worse; what qualifies him to lead SMD given the present circumstances SMD faces?

      • Andrew

        Spending other agencies funding? That’s a cute trick. How do you suppose he managed that?

        • E. P. Grondine

          Hi Andrew –

          Read all about it-

          http://abob.libs.uga.edu/bobk/ccc/ce091702.html

          Earlier, I’d gotten calls from the NSF about his actions.

          It didn’t start off like this…

          • Andrew

            Spare me, please. I’m not gonna read all of that blather. Just be specific. What other agency funding did Ed Weiler spend to “free up money for his own obsession, which is and was cosmology.” The word “spend” means that he signed a check. The OMB is going to look askance at an NSF check signed by Ed. If you’re going to make an accusation, then just make it. Don’t hide behind a ten thousand word meandering essay that resembles a bad trip report, of which almost nothing has to do with Ed, and most of it doesn’t have to do with anything.

            I’ve seen the curious, largely paranoid, and vaguely libelous stuff you’ve written about Ed over the years. Ed has honors up the kazoo, and enormous respect from the movers and shakers in space policy. What do you have to show for yourself, aside from a vanity-press book?

            By the way, that “co-ordination between NASA and the NSF has been moved to a formal level by Congressional mandate” is something that I am intimately familiar with. Be careful.

            I have to wonder if some rogue NEO did in fact, knock some sense out of you. Very little is ever evident here.

  • DCSCA

    A quick space-related word on the passing of former NYC mayor, “‘how’my doin’?” Ed Koch. Before he was ‘hizzonor’ of the greatest city on Earth, “Steady Eddie” Koch was a NY congressman who- if memory serves- back in the day, said he could not vote for funds to look for microbes on Mars as long as he knew there were cockroaches in the slums of Harlem.

    The Vikings were funded and did not find microbes, Harlem remains infested and Ed has ascended into the heavens.

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